Saturday night at Petco Park in San Diego, the Houston Astros and Tampa Bay Rays will take the field for a decisive Game 7 in their American League Championship Series matchup. The Astros won three straight games to come back from an 3-0 deficit; they edged out the Rays for one-run wins in Games 4 (HOU 4, TB 3) and 5 (HOU 4, TB 3) and then kept their season alive with a comeback win in Game 6 (HOU 7, TB 4) on Friday to force the winner-take-all contest. Houston is just the second team ever to force a Game 7 after falling behind 3-0 in a best-of-seven series. Here's how you can watch Game 7.
Houston is 8-4 thus far this postseason, having swept the Twins in the best-of-three AL Wild Card Series before defeating the Oakland Athletics in the ALDS, 3-1. Tampa is 8-5 this postseason; it swept the Blue Jays (2-0) in the AL Wild Card Series before getting past the Yankees in five games in the ALDS. And as a reminder, this year's ALCS is a rematch of the 2019 ALDS where the Astros prevailed in five games. The Rays have lost four consecutive games only once in 2020, and that was at the start of the regular season, when they dropped five in a row from July 29-Aug. 2.
Ahead of Saturday's Game 7, we thought it might be worthwhile to provide readers with a tale of the tape for the series finale. We'll take a closer look at the starters, bullpen situations and who's hot at the plate. Let's kick things off with our two veteran starters:
Morton vs. McCullers
For the winner-take-all game, the pitching matchup will be a rematch of Game 2. Tampa will send out Charlie Morton to face Houston's Lance McCullers Jr. The pair of starters used to be teammates together on the Astros. In fact, Morton was on the mound when Houston won Game 7 of the ALCS and Game 7 of the World Series in 2017. The Rays signed Morton to a $30 million, two-year contract as a free agent following the 2018 season. Albeit, that championship season will now forever be associated with the Astros' sign-stealing scandal. One that Morton himself shared regrets for not doing more to stop his club's sign-stealing operation.
In their Game 2 matchup, Morton got the better of McCullers, throwing five scoreless frames. Morton, 36, owns a lifetime 3.16 ERA with 9.6 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9 in 51 1/3 playoff innings, and he's already got the win-or-go-home experience from '17. He's actually the only pitcher in MLB history with three wins in winner-take-all games: 2017 ALCS Game 7 vs. Yankees, 2017 World Series Game 7 vs. Dodgers, 2019 AL Wild Card Game vs. Athletics. He'll be looking to add a fourth to that list Saturday night.
"This is somewhere we just were with the Yankees," Morton said after the Game 6 loss. "We're just going to have to fight the whole game. I know I've done it [pitched in Game 7], so that gives you the realization that you know that you can do it. They've [Astros] been putting together really good at-bats so for me, I'm going to have a sound gameplan and I'm going to have to execute it. The situation doesn't change that. So that's what I'll be focused on."
McCullers, 27, was charged with four runs in seven innings in the Game 2 loss. While Morton sports a perfect record in win-or-go-home games, McCullers isn't a newbie to this either. In fact, McCullers actually relieved Morton in Game 7 of the ALCS against the Yankees and pitched four scoreless innings in relief. And, McCullers got the start for Game 7 of the World Series before Morton closed out the game, pitching the final four innings. Morton and McCullers will be the first pair of players in postseason history to pitch in the same winner-take-all game as teammates and then later start against each other in a winner-take-all game, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
"I've pitched in a couple of Game 7's before so I feel like with that and coming into the series that I was slated for [Games] 2 and 7, I've been ready for those two starts," McCullers said ahead of his Game 7 start.
McCullers and Morton both used their curveball, 37.6 and 32.7 percent of the time during the regular season, respectively. The difference is that while the Astros lineup struggles to hit against curves (.194 batting average) during the regular season, the Rays fared much better with a .284 average. Morton also utilized his sinker during his recent Game 2 start in the ALCS. The Astros batters finished the Game 2 loss having gone 1 for 4 against the curveball and 3 for 10 against the sinker.
Rays: Tampa Bay had impressed all season-long with a lights-out bullpen, but it collapsed in Game 6. Through the Rays' first 12 games this postseason, the team's relievers had combined to inherit 20 runners and stranded all of them. The streak was an all-time longest streak to begin a postseason, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. In Game 6, Diego Castillo relieved starter Blake Snell -- who expressed his frustrations with being taken out early -- with two runners on and no outs. Castillo proceeded to allow both runners to score on an RBI single from Astros outfielder George Springer. It was also the first time Castillo had allowed a run in his postseason career (10 appearances). Enoli Paredes, Nick Anderson, Peter Fairbanks, even, Tyler Glasnow could make appearances out of the bullpen.
Astros: The Astros will likely keep their closer Ryan Pressly available for Game 7. However, Pressly is coming off pitching on three consecutive days. With that, there's a chance that he may not be as effective as usual. Pressly has never appeared in four straight games before, let alone four straight, must-win postseason games. The Astros set-up man Cristian Javier will be available as well, but he was used for the second straight day on Friday. On the Astros roster, Andre Scrubb, Blake Taylor and Brooks Raley are the only other pitchers who earned a save this season. Scrubb might be unavailable or limited in Game 7 as he's thrown 48 pitches in the last two games.
Rays: Tampa's offense has been sluggish, as of late. As a team, the Rays are hitting .199/.292/.372 for these past six games in the ALCS. Rookie Randy Arozarena has been the guy to get things going. Outside of Arozarena, the Rays lineup has hit a weak .180 with six home runs in the series. But even the breakout star Arozarena has gone hitless in his last five at-bats. From Game 4 through Game 6, he went 2 for 12. In his at-bats, it's noticeable that he struggles with low and inside pitches, but tends to do better with any pitches thrown off the plate away. Ultimately, the Rays are going to need more offense than just Arozarena to beat the Astros and win the World Series.
"We've just got to bounce back," manager Kevin Cash told reporters, including Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, after the Game 6 loss.
"This isn't the scenario that we wanted leading up 3-0. But this is a resilient group. ... Encouraged that the offense kind of got going there, look for some carryover. We're going to show up (Saturday) and do everything we can, like we always do, to find a way to win and pick each other up. The momentum, there's no doubt momentum has shifted. But I would bet on this team being very available and capable of bouncing back."
Ji-Man Choi, Yoshi Tsutsugo and Manuel Margot have all contributed. Margot hit two homers in Game 6, bringing his postseason total to five. Margot had just one home run in 47 games during the regular season. Margot became the sixth Rays player to record a multi-homer game in the postseason, joining Yandy Diaz, Desmond Jennings, Kelly Shoppach, B.J. Upton and Evan Longoria.
Rays left fielder Brandon Lowe went 1 for 3 in the loss on Friday, but he's still hit 5 for 48 with one home run this entire postseason.
Astros: It's been Carlos Correa leading the way in Houston's comeback. In Game 6, Correa finished 3 for 5 with an RBI single to cap off the Astros' four-run fifth inning. Overall through 12 postseason games this year, Correa has notched 15 RBI. That brought his playoff career total to 48, which ties Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson for seventh on MLB's all-time list. Only Bernie Williams (80), Manny Ramirez (78), David Justice (63), Derek Jeter (61), David Ortiz (61) and Albert Pujols (54) have recorded more.
Correa, at just 26 years-old, has played in 62 postseason games. No other player in postseason history has collected more than 35 RBIs before turning 27. It was Correa's Game 5 walk-off home run that kept Houston's season alive. Overall, he's sporting .261/.320/.565 slash line for this year's ALCS.
"We're relentless," Correa told reporters, including MLB.com's Brian McTaggart, after the Game 6 win.
"When we said we didn't want to go home, we really meant that. We want to keep playing baseball and we don't want this to be the end of our season. We took care of these three games and now we've got to take care of one more. If we don't win that game, it all means nothing. We have to go out there tomorrow and get that win. It would be great."
Outside of Correa, it's been a balanced offense for Houston, with Jose Altuve, in particular, rebounding from a rough regular season. Michael Brantley, Aledmys Diaz, George Springer and Martin Maldonado have all put up impressive numbers through six games. Alex Bregman and Yuli Gurriel, meanwhile, have struggled throughout the matchup. He went 0 for 5 in Game 6 and carries a .125/.192/.125 line in the ALCS. Gurriel is 2 for 17 overall in the ALCS.